Digital Transformation, the Beatles, and the Complete GIS

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Stefano Panzeri - Dreamstime
Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions, Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

  • Member since 2002
  • 205 items added with 246,549 views
  • Jun 20, 2019

In 1974, comic Robert Klein released a comedy recording called Mind over Matter. One of the most popular cuts is "The Final Record Offer." In it, he parodies popular commercials of that era. In his best announcer voice, Klein tells his listeners, "Now you can get every record ever recorded. . . We drive a truck to your house."

The live audience howls with laughter. How crazy—imagine having access to every song ever recorded?

Not so crazy. Just subscribe to Spotify or Alexa.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology has been around since 1969. Imagine hearing a variation on Klein's comedy bit back then. "Now you can have every map ever made." Crazy then. Not so much now. Just get ArcGIS.

The Beatles recorded over 300 songs. All were originally delivered on analog media. Let's say you wanted to listen to the Beatles song "Got to Get You into My Life." Given the number of albums and singles and the UK and US versions, it was tough figuring out which song was on which album. That's just the way it was. That was the album culture. No one thought things would ever be different. How wrong they would prove to be.

("Got to Get You into My Life" is on Revolver.)

Then one day, compact discs replaced analog media. They were digital. Analog to digital. The greatest digital transformation of all time. Right?

Not so fast.

Digital transformation has two, maybe three components:

  • New technology
  • New behavior
  • New business model (maybe)

Beatles albums were rereleased on CD in the 1990s. But they were just smaller versions of the vinyl albums. They had the same cover designs, the same names, and the same collections of songs. This process was not digital transformation. Why?

No new behavior.

The technology was new, but customers still went to music stores. They still collected media like they always did. Sure, they were better than the old cassette tapes (not to mention the 8-track tapes). The more CDs people got, the harder it was to find the song they just had to hear. The album culture had not changed.

The migration from vinyl to CD was not digital transformation. It was digital transition.

Digital transformation in the music business happened with streaming music. It completely broke the album culture. Want to hear a song? Ask for it to be played. Period. Robert Klein would be delighted. His dream come true, without the truck.

The music industry will never be the same. A new business model was born.

Utilities have been around for over a century. Workflows and behaviors are entrenched. Utilities applied technology to automate legacy processes. Utilities depended heavily on people's knowledge.

The old-timers who grew up buying Beatles albums on vinyl know which songs are on each album. They also know the order of all the songs. And on which side.

The same is true of seasoned utility workers. They know where all the trouble spots are. They know where all the leaning poles are. They have deep insight into where things are likely to fail. I knew workers who could tell you which parts of the grid were damaged after a storm, without any data. They just knew.

That insight is rapidly walking out the door.

As the grid becomes more complicated, utilities cannot rely on tribal knowledge. They need a system in place to provide accurate and complete asset information. They need a way of communicating to all levels of the company immediately. They need to understand what puts the grid at risk. They need to know where. They need to know what contributes to grid vulnerability.

Some people think of GIS as being just maps or a graphic product or the younger brother of CAD. In the early days of GIS, utilities converted paper maps to GIS. The GIS maps replicated the old paper maps and workflows. Even though the maps were digital, utilities still held onto the paper-map culture. Like those who took pride in knowing which songs, in order, are on a Beatles album, workers knew which pole was on which sheet in their map books. The new GIS digital maps copied the format, style, and content of the old paper maps. This was like the transition from vinyl to CD.

That was digital transition.

ArcGIS changed all that.

It provides a high degree of data accuracy. Using social media as a cue, it communicates, coordinates, and collaborates with folks inside and outside the company. Right now.

It provides insight. Understanding where. Measuring. Relating assets, people, and natural events. Finding the best locations and paths. Detecting patterns. Making predictions.

ArcGIS is about a culture change. It breaks the paper-map culture. It relies on data and science. The Science of Where.

No, Robert Klein, ArcGIS isn't about producing piles of map plots delivered to everyone in trucks or even files of PDFs cluttering up hard drives. It's about digital transformation. To learn more about ArcGIS as the complete GIS, download our free e-book: Digitally Transforming Utilities: A Complete GIS

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 24, 2019

Digital transformation has two, maybe three components:

New technology

New behavior

New business model (maybe)

I absolutely LOVE thi idea, Bill. Too often it seems people think you create the new technology and the problems will be solved, especially in the energy sector. But it's important to understand the situation into which that technology will be thrust, both the business case and the behaviors of people. Demand response, for example, could have huge potential-- but both behavior and business must adjust for that to be the case. 

Val Conway's picture
Val Conway on Jul 3, 2019

Great insight.

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Jul 3, 2019

Thanks folks for reading and commenting. 

Bill Meehan's picture
Thank Bill for the Post!
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